The Earth Angel or the Body-Spirit


By Raimon Arola

English translation by his student Hilda Takács

The article is an English translation of chapter 4 of Raimon Arola’s book ‘Alquimia y religion. Los símbolos herméticos del siglo XVI‘, published by Ediciones Siruela, Madrid 2008, pp. 61-70.

'The Earth Angel'

‘The Earth Angel’

The body-spirit easily accomplishes everything, for it is already in everything from the beginning (Louis Cattiaux, The Message Rediscovered, 2, 74).

The body-spirit has neither a beginning nor an end. When it divides into two, universes are born in love; it is the time of movement. When it comes together, worlds disappear in knowledge; it is the time of repose. (Ibid, 4, 90).

Interestingly, the theoretical impulse that has led to the revival of the Christian alchemy in the traditional spirituality stems from other traditions, particularly from Iranian Shi’ism. Since the first researches on mystical texts by Louis Massignon and later on by Henry Corbin which were a result ofvthe encounter between ancient Zoroastrian culture and expansive Islam, we have been able to understand that Islamic alchemy could be considered a bridge between the ancient Greco-Roman world and medieval Europe. Furthermore, Corbin has succesfully managed to reveal the spiritual and traditional contents inherent to alchemy.

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In Islamic Sufism just as in Rosicrucianism of the 17th century, alchemy could not be separated from the spiritual tradition to which it belonged; they simply form the two equal parts of the union. Corbin’s studies, centered on Iranian texts, are particularly useful to acquire a more profound understanding more of Christian mystery tradition. Thus, it is no wonder that his works contributed to a greater knowledge of esotericism as well. An example can be found in Corbin’s work entitled Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, in chapter ‘The Earth Angel’, hence we are using the same title to allude to the means that permit the union of that symbol, also called ‘universal medicine’. The primary substance that the alchemists consider a body-spirit perfectly corresponds to what Corbin called: ‘The Earth Angel’. In relation to this term Corbin wrote the following:

The perception of the Earth Angel will come about in an intermediate universe which is neither that of the Essences of philosophy nor that of the sensory data on which the work of positive science is based, but which is a universe of archetype-Images, the mundus imaginalis, experienced as so many personal presences.

The French philosopher compares the ‘Earth Angel’ or mundus imaginalis to the ‘imaginatio vera’ of Paracelsus, contrasting them to fantasy (phantasia). Starting from this relation, the traditional alchemy of modern Europe can be reconsidered, because Paracelsus was the key figure who originated the Rosicrucian movement and with it, the symbolic language that is central in this essay. As a result of Corbin’s studies, discussions about the veracity of alchemy as well as the possibility to transmute base metals into gold, gave way to a new approach towards the subject in which least important is the confrontation of (positive) science and magic or even reason and faith. It is said: ‘If our Stone was a stone, we would not call it a stone‘, which obviously does not invalidate the possible exterior transmutation of metals, just indicates that this is not the main objective.

Only since the ‘Angelic Earth’ has the alchemical Operation been conceived as the thing that other languages know as God’s creation, because it is on this earth where such creation occurs. Since ‘The Earth Angel’ we have been able to reach the land of Hurqalya, cited by Corbin, where the spirits and the bodies resurrect. Corbin says:

The postulate is that one and the same spiritual ‘energy of light’ is just as much the constituent of the essence of what is qualified as material as it is of the essence of what is qualified as spiritual. Briefly, how it should be expressed is by saying that Spirits are being-light in the fluid state, whereas bodies are being-light but in the solidified state. The difference between the two is like the difference between water and snow. Proof confirming the resurrection of the one is valid in respect of the resurrection of the other.

Now, the final result of the alchemical Operation is exactly this coincidentia oppositorum: once a body has been treated and perfected by this Operation, it is in the state of ‘solid liquid’. In 1650 Eugenius Philalethes published the Coelum Terrae. This is a short text that appeared as a continuation of the ‘Magia Adamica’. The two texts are hardly known even though they raise questions that we consider fundamental for the religious thinking of the modern man. However, it must be noted that the teachings of Philalethes on the Prima Materia are much more comprehensible from what Corbin wrote on Shi’ism. Philalethes says:

Behold, I will tell you as plainly as I may. There are in the world two extremes – matter and spirit. One of these, I can assure you, is earth. The influences of the spirit animate and quicken the matter, and in the material extreme the seed of the spirit is to be found. In middle natures – as fire, air, and water – this seed stays not, for they are but dispenseros or media, which convey it from one extreme to the other, from the spirit to the matter – that is, the earth. But stay, my friend; this intelligence hath somewhat stirred you, and how you come on so furiously, as if you would rifle the cabinet. Give me leave to put you back. I mind not this common, feculent, impure earth; that falls not within my discourse, but as it makes for your manuduction. That which I speak of is a mystery: it is coelum terrae and terrae coeli, not this dirt and dust but a most secret, celestial, invisible earth.

The words of this Rosicrucian master should not be disregarded due to the use of alchemical language; on the contrary, they should serve as new impetus for the Western esoteric world that was separated from the exoteric form at the time of Philalethes, just after the Thirty Years War. It was a controversial and heartbreaking separation with which no one won but everyone lost. Esotericism, or rather ‘esotericisms’, broke the connection with their center, which was alchemy. Exotericism could not resist positive science but had to compromise with it and fell into pieces trying to contradict with it or absorb it. Thus, between esotericism and exotericism, the mystery of the ‘Earth Angel’ was turned to be something uncommon and unknown for both the alchemists and the official religion.

The alchemist Jean d’Espagnet wrote in his Hermeticae Philosophiae Arcanum Opus the following for those who used the chemical language in their works disregarding the nature of the philosophical Earth:

Some have sought for the latent Philosophical Earth by Calcination, others by Sublimation; many among glass, and some few between vitriol and salt, even as among their natural vessels […],But we have learned of the Prophet that «In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth, and the Earth was without form and void […], and God said, ‘Let there be Light’, and there was Light; and God saw the Light that it was good (Gn 1, 1-4), […] Joseph’s blessing spoken of by the same Prophet will be sufficient to a wise man ‘Of the blessing of the Lord be his land’. (Dt 33, 13 and ss.).

d’Espagnet closes his work with the following words: ‘pray the Lord from the bottom of thy heart (my son) that he would bestow upon Thee a portion of this blessed earth’. A vast number of alchemical studies cite the Holy Book to imply that the philosophical Earth comes from the blessing of God. It’s only on this Earth where one can be born and evolve the divine creature, which in the language of alchemy would be the pure gold that is fluid and incandescent. Also, the author compared this philosophical or celestial Earth with the firmament, created in the early days of the Biblical Genesis:

[…] until they (the waters) be separated by the fiery Spirit; they being separated, the Light Elements are carried upwards, and the heavy ones downwards: the light arising, darkness retreats: the waters are gathered into one place and the dry land appears. At length the two great Luminaries arise, and mineral, vegetable and animal are produced in the Philosophers’ Earth.

Tarot de Marseille, one of the most famous and first tarot decks. It probably appeared in northern Italy in the 15th century, though its name was coined later  it was coined at least as early as 1889 by the French occultist Papus (Gérard Encausse) in Chapter XI of his book le Tarot des bohémiens (Tarot of the Bohemians)

Tarot de Marseille, one of the most famous and earliest tarot decks. It probably appeared in northern Italy in the 15th century, though its name was coined later around +/- 1889 by the French occultist Papus (Gérard Encausse) in Chapter XI of his book ‘le Tarot des bohémiens’ (Tarot of the Bohemians).

The Hebrew word that is used to designate the division and reunion of the waters above and under the ground, and that St. Jerome translated as firmament, is raquia, which stems from a word that means ‘to extend’ and has also the meaning ‘hammered out sheets’, as appeared in the Exodus: ‘Then they hammered out gold sheets’ (Ex 39, 4). Emmanuel d’Hooghvorst proposed in a remarkable article that the original meaning of the images of the Tarot cards was not far from the mystery of the philosophical Earth, since the cards were hieroglyphic or sacred signs rooted in the ‘Earth Angel’. These are his words:

The intention of the old imagiers was thus to see in the Tarot the image of a heaven on earth, also called firmament or golden mirror, which the prophets looked into. That is why they conceived them as cards that were taroté; gilded with gold leaf, stamped or engraved with a stylus to produce a better image on the gold. They then brought their drawings to life by coloring them…

Like the firmament of Moses the cards of Tarot also show the signs of the philosophical creation; Emmanuel d’Hooghvost says:

Do these engraved and painted plates of gold not allude to that Philosophy of the Wise Gold, or Gld of the Temple, which we have already had the opportunity to mention, and through which the prophets prophesized? We would find ourselves here in the presence of a mutus liber, which the old imagiers would have transmitted to us under the veil of cartomancy.

The alchemical imagery describes the operation of the Great Work in its place, expressing clearly the procedure happening in the alchemical vessel or flask. The vessel contains the pure earth and sometimes is itself identified with such. A text attributed to Ramon Llull explains the following about the vessel, which is one of the mysteries of the alchemical work: ‘though in our books we described the various types of vessels with enigmatic terms, our spirit deals with one only that we are introducing here clearly and in which we perfect our work from the beginning until the end of our Magisterium‘. In some alchemical illustrations the figure of vessel of flask is used to demonstrate the Earth Angel. The illustrations included here are from the work entitled Donum Dei, from which more than sixty manuscripts retained (figure 1).

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Figure 1

The book consists of twelve images that describe the steps of making the Philosopher’s stone. The early versions of the book date back to the second half of the fifteenth century, at the time when the first Tarot cards appeared. In 1628 Johann Daniel Mylius made an etching replication of this work with the title Anatomia Auri. His engravements have been reproduced several times. The first image (figure 2) shows the King and the Queen pointing to a vessel in which the alchemical procedure is to be performed. On the phylacteries a fragment is written from the Rosarium Philosophorum that comes from the Turba Philosophorum. This is a short dialogue in which the Sun King tells his wife the following:

Come, my beloved, let us embrace and engender a new child that does not look like his parents and the Moon Queen answers: I am coming with you, eager to have a child that is not alike.

Figure 2

In the centre of the image the flask is identified with Mercurius inside which a woman with a solar head is holding a seemingly dejected man. The man and the woman together represent the bright spirit and the inferior salt. The process by which they are united, death and rebirth are shown by a series of engravings that are the reproductions of the images of the Donum Dei and describe what is happening in the philosophical vessel. In the engraving, the consorts are standing on two distinct mountains and the abyss between them is shown as an appropriate place for their union by which an incomparable child is engendered. In the clefts of the mountains the clutches of two eagles can be seen, referring to a doomed earth that arises through the art of alchemy and that does not know either the pain and decrepitude, or the death.

The Donum Dei and the Anatomia Auri explain visually the mystery of the regeneration. As we have said, it all happens in a vessel or flask. The alchemist observes what is happening inside the vessel and praises God, without intervening in the process as we could see on the sheets of the Mutus Liber (figure 3).

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Figure 3

Philosopher alchemists often refer to a magic mirror, in which they see the Earth Angel, God’s own presence. The occultists of the 19th century also used magic mirrors for their practices; they saw the daily happenings in them and tried or at least intended to reveal the secrets of the past and predict the future. But the difference from the hermetical approach is that they could not see the awakening of the supernatural hidden in the natural. Unfortunately, the contemporary esotericism got lost in the labyrinth of natural, being unable to take the next step: the revelation of the supernatural.

The exotericism should permit the conscious experience of the supernatural, but for this the experience must be limited and particularized as much as it is possible, even if it is at the expense of wordy expression and rituals that largely downplay their whole reality. The esotericism, however, acts in a reversed way making men dive into what is unlimited and universal, so that they could understand the occult world without affecting the consciousness of the experience. The spiritual tradition imparted by the Rosicrucian teachings sought the verifiable consciousness in the universal experiences. Such could be the knowledge of the truth. As we can see, exotericism and esotericism should never be contrasted, they complement each other.

When they separated at the end of the 17th century, the exoteric forms led the spirit of men to a level of consciousness that was not generated by experiences, but by rituals. In the meantime, esotericism alone directed toward infinite experiences, perhaps not in a traditional sense. In the alchemical texts that were written by masters who followed Theophrastus Paracelsus a universal experience is proposed to be assumed on the conscience. The unusual symbolism that they use, both operative and mystical, allows such connection. For instance, the seventh key of Liber duodecim Clavium written by Basil Valentin is a magnificent teaching for us about the Earth Angel where the union of conscious and experience should be made.

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Figure 4

In Michael Maier’s work (figure 4) the parts represented are in perfect harmony. A big circle stands for the interior of the vessel, which arranges the whole. Above the circle the neck of the vessel acts as a mark that actualizes all what happens in the sacred circle: this is the so-called «hermetic mark» as the same author named it. Behind the vessel there is an angel that separates with a sword and balances with a scale. The artist found a meeting point between the vessel and the body of the angel, primarily through the feet of the angel that upholds both the body and the vessel. The image is set in the time when ‘the world is destructed again by its Architect‘. In several alchemical texts there is a direct relation between the manifestation of the inferior of the vessel and the destruction of the old world.

Inside the central circle different inscriptions can be read in another circle, a square and a triangle. The union has the name chaos, ‘caos’, referring to the process of creation. On the four sides of the square the names of the four seasons are written which in the text are explained in relation to the vital order that is hidden in winter and sparkles in the summer –just as it happened in God’s work. In the centre of the triangle, which is also, the centre of the whole, the water and the philosophic salt can be found. According to Basil Valentin this is the sage’s earth that was liquefied following the natural tempo. This would be the ‘spiritual water on which, at the beginning, the spirit rested and this is the one that closes the door of the fortress‘. The vessel is marked hermetically at the exterior world or the excremental world of the fallen, and inside manifests himself the new man. The author explains it the following way:

The bodies of angels, on the other hand, not being alloyed with sin or impurity, are injured by no extreme either of heat or cold. When man shall have been glorified, his body will become like the angelic body in this respect. If we carefully cultivate the life of our souls, we shall be sons and heirs of God, and shall be able to do that which now seems impossible.

Is the angelic body that Basil Valentin describes different from the Earth Angel that Corbin talks about in relation to the Iranian Shi’ism? Being the son or heir of God is different from achieving Hurqalya or the land of resurrection? Venceslaus Lavinus Moravus wrote a text entitled Tractatus de coelo terrestri in which he writes the following:

This coagulable water that begets all things becomes a pure earth that remains locked up in the solid unity of the highest heaven’s virtues. Since it is joined on the earth with the sky, a beautiful name was given to it: Terrestrial Heaven… Here are the characteristics of the limbo and chaos, which have the same effects when extracted from the earth; but when it gets preparation from the separation of the good and the evil, it shows its power over the perfect and the imperfect things. I live in the mountains and on the plain, I had been father before I became a child, I have begotten my mother, and my mother, or rather my father, has led me inside her womb… An admirable bird is born, and from his bones, which are my bones, I constructed a crucible for myself, in which, flying without wings, dying was alive, and the art surpassed the laws of nature, and has become at last a king that surpasses the other six with his infinite power.

According to the alchemists, who are also called the ‘fire philosophers’, the angelic earth, where the divine birds nest, is a matter which itself has knowledge. There has been much written about it; here we want to highlight perhaps the most famous work entitled Aurora Consurgens, which is one of the oldest illuminated texts, and also, certainly the most surprising one. In the first part there is an ongoing link between the Biblical quotations and the alchemical procedures; as the author says ‘the truthfulness of alchemy is proved through the Bible‘. As in the proverbs of Solomon the anthropomorphic representation of Wisdom appears, which creates order in the chaos; this could also be designated as the alchemists’ ‘Prima Materia’. This is the curate of the Creator, as it is written in the eighth chapter of the Proverbs:

The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. (8, 22-23).

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Figure 5

The Wisdom that appears in the Biblical quotation is the first creation of God, his masterpiece, from which the transformative process origins that leads to the Philosopher’s stone, the ultimate goal of all creation, the alpha and the omega of the Apocalypses. A miniature in Aurora Consurgens clearly demonstrates it (figure 5). In front of a black background there is a lady with a reddish complexion. She is wearing a crown and a blue dress, and breast-feeding two sages. Like a mother, she is offering her virginal milk to her adepts, and the nutrition they are taking in is her own wisdom. Thus, the Prima Materia, that the alchemists are looking for, is a wise substance, or in other words, the substance that contains the wisdom of the Creator. The second emblem in Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (figure 6) develops the same idea; the motto says: TERRAM lacte nutrise suo and is clarified there that if Romulus was fed by a wolf and Jupiter by a goat ‘why is it so strange that we (alchemists) say that the earth nourished the tender offspring of the wise with her milk’?

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Figure 6

The alchemists believe that the creation comes from the earth without the intervention of the Creator. Based on this idea a particular cosmology is developed that did not contradict the Holy Scriptures but relied on them. We should not forget that what they considered as created is the holy nature that is the pure interiority and not the excremental exteriority, because the alchemists are talking about a hermetically marked vessel. The nourishment that the Earth Mother provides is her virginal milk that not only nourishes but teaches as well. The order of the world soul or Anima mundi is concentrated in a liquid matter, which as Maier explains, is ‘the heaven’s wet nurse‘, and she gives measure to the infinite also:

This Earth is the Nurse of Caelum or Heaven, not by opening, washing, or moistening the Infant, but by coagulating, fixing, coloring and converting it into more Juice & Blood. For Nutrition implies an Augmentation in length, breadth & Depth which extends itself through all the Dimensions of a Body

The seed fed and taught by the virginal milk will become a powerful tree of life. This was the reason why Solomon said: ‘For Wisdom is better than precious stones: and all pleasures are not to be compared unto her‘. (Prov 8, 11). No wonder that the alchemical texts are an apology for this original Wisdom or Prima Materia and that Imam Ali called alchemy ‘the sister of prophecy‘ since both the alchemy and the prophecy know, possess and manifest the Wisdom. The anonymous author of the Aurora Consurgens exposes again and again what this Wisdom is and how it is achieved. Finally, we would like to point out what the Aurora Consurgens says about the union of men and Wisdom:

It is a gift, a sacrament of God, something divine that the symbolic language of the sages conceals in thousand ways.

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